Broken trees are something that everyone has heard horror stories about. This is a very real concern, especially when buying off of the internet where you are often not able to view the saddle first to inspect the condition and check it over for signs of damage. I would recommend always airing on the side of caution and make the extra effort to arrange an inspection or organise a 7 day right of return if you find the saddle to be unsuitable for horse, rider or if you have any queries over its safety and soundness.
In some cases a saddle with a broken tree is able to be spotted a mile off but others show no visual signs of damage to the exterior. Twisted trees, popped rivets, cracked head plates and damaged stirrup bars can very easily be missed if the saddle is not carefully inspected. Breaks and damage can happen to any saddle, any tree, regardless of its material.
If you are wanting to check a saddle for possible damage, breaks etc here are a few things to do:
1. Are there any visual signs of damage such as; scratches, dents, scuffs?
2. Does the saddle look straight to the eye when checked on a flat, square surface?
3. Flex the tree... Always flex the tree! This will give you an indication of any weakness, unlevelness or unusual squeaks, creaks or clunks (none of which are healthy noises for a saddle to be making). If you hear or feel anything that is concerning, its best to get the saddle assessed by a professional master saddler.
4. Ask questions and ask for the saddles history. Saddle fitters take notes which are sent to the client at or after their fitting session. This is a really good thing to have, similar to a vehicle service history.
5. Most importantly: Get the saddle checked over by a qualified master saddler or saddle fitter to ensure soundness and safety. Better to be safe than sorry.
If a saddle is inspected by a professional and found to have some damage it is in our code of conduct to keep the saddle in pieces unless a repair is made. We are not able to reassemble a damaged saddle.
Some damage is able to repaired or replaced, other times not. Bear in mind that major repairs can be very costly. Your saddler will be able to explain and give an estimate for repair dependent on each individual saddles needs.